Archive for the ‘Learning Theories.’ Category

Multiple Intelligences Theory (Gardner)

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Summary: Multiple Intelligences Theory posits that there are seven ways people understand in the world, described by Gardner as seven intelligences.

Originator: Howard Gardner in 1983.

Key Terms: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Visual-Spatial, Body-Kinesthetic, Musical-Rhythmic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal.

Multiple Intelligences Theory

Developed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983 and subsequently refined, this theory states there are at least seven ways (“intelligences”) that people understand and perceive the world. These intelligences may not be exhaustive. Gardner lists the following:

  • Linguistic. The ability to use spoken or written words.
  • Logical-Mathematical. Inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning abilities, logic, as well as the use of numbers and abstract pattern recognition.
  • Visual-Spatial. The ability to mentally visualize objects and spatial dimensions.
  • Body-Kinesthetic. The wisdom of the body and the ability to control physical motion
  • Musical-Rhythmic. The ability to master music as well as rhythms, tones and beats.
  • Interpersonal. The ability to communicate effectively with other people and to be able to develop relationships.
  • Intrapersonal. The ability to understand one’s own emotions, motivations, inner states of being, and self-reflection.

This theory, while widely popular over the last two decades, has its share of critics. Some argue that Gardner’s theory is based too much on his own intuition rather than empirical data. Others feel that the intelligences are synonymous for personality types.

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Affordance Theory (Gibson)

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Summary: Affordance theory states that the world is perceived not only in terms of object shapes and spatial relationships but also in terms of object possibilities for action (affordances) — perception drives action.

Originators: J. J. Gibson (1904-1979)

Keywords: Affordances, direct perception, ecological

Affordance Theory (J. J. Gibson)

American psychologist James Jerome Gibson was influential in changing the way we consider visual perception. According to his theory, perception of the environment inevitably leads to some course of action. Affordances, or clues in the environment that indicate possibilities for action, are perceived in a direct, immediate way with no sensory processing. Examples include: buttons for pushing, knobs for turning, handles for pulling, levers for sliding, etc.

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Self-Theories (Dweck)

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Summary: Carol Dweck and others have Identified two implicit theories of intelligence.  Those learners who have an “entity” theory view intelligence as being an unchangeable, fixed internal characteristic.  Those who have an “incremental” theory believe that their intelligence is malleable and can be increased through effort.

Originators: Carol Dweck, based on over 30 years of research on belief systems, and their role in motivation and achievement.  Discussed in her book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (1999).

Key Terms: entity theory, incremental theory

Self-Theories (Dweck)

Carol Dweck (currently at Indiana University) describes a series of empirically-based studies that investigate how people develop beliefs about themselves (i.e., self-theories) and how these self-theories create their psychological worlds, shaping thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  The theories reveal why some students are motivated to work harder, and why others fall into patterns of helplessness and are self-defeating.  Dweck’s conclusions explore the implications for the concept of self-esteem, suggesting a rethinking of its role in motivation, and the conditions that foster it.   She demonstrated empirically that students who hold an entity theory of intelligence are less likely to attempt challenging tasks and are at risk for academic underachievement.

Students carry two types of views on ability/intelligence:

  1. Entity View – This view (those who are called “Entity theorists”) treats intelligence as fixed and stable.  These students have a high desire to prove themselves to others; to be seen as smart and avoid looking unintelligent.
  2. Incremental View – This view treats intelligence as malleable, fluid, and changeable.  These students see satisfaction coming from the process of learning and often see opportunities to get better.  They do not focus on what the outcome will say about them, but what they can attain from taking part in the venture.

Entity theorists are susceptible to learned helplessness because they may feel that circumstances are outside their control (i.e. there’s nothing that could have been done to make things better), thus they may give up easily.  As a result, they may simply avoid situations or activites that they perceive to be challenging (perhaps through procrastination, absenteeism, etc.).  Alternatively, they may purposely choose extremely difficult tasks so that they have an excuse for failure.  Ultimately, they may stop trying altogether.  Because success (or failure) is often linked to what is perceived as a fixed amount of intelligence rather than effort (e.g., the belief that “I did poorly because I’m not a smart person”), students may think that failure implies a natural lack of intelligence.  Dweck found that students with a long history of success may be the most vulnerable for developing learned helplessness because they may buy into the entity view of intelligence more readily than those with less frequent success (Dweck, 1999).

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Identity Status Theory (Marcia)

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Summary: Refining and extending Erik Erikson’s work, James Marcia came up with four Identity Statuses of psychological identity development. The main idea is that one’s sense of identity is determined largely by the choices and commitments made regarding certain personal and social traits.

Originators: James Marcia, Canadian developmental psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University.

Key terms: identity status, diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, achievement.

Marcia’s Identity Statuses

Based on Erik Erikson’s groundbreaking work on identity and psychosocial development in the 1960s, Canadian developmental psychologist James Marcia refined and extended Erikson’s model, primarily focusing on adolescent development. Addressing Erikson’s notion of identity crisis, Marcia posited that the adolescent stage consists neither of identity resolution nor identity confusion, but rather the degree to which one has explored and committed to an identity in a variety of life domains from vocation, religion, relational choices, gender roles, and so on. Marcia’s theory of identity achievement argues that two distinct parts form an adolescent’s identity: crisis (i. e. a time when one’s values and choices are being reevaluated) and commitment. He defined a crisis as a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined. The end outcome of a crisis leads to a commitment made to a certain role or value.

Upon developing a semi-structured interview for identity research, Marcia proposed Identity Status of psychological identity development:

  • Identity Diffusion – the status in which the adolescent does no have a sense of having choices; he or she has not yet made (nor is attempting/willing to make) a commitment
  • Identity Foreclosure – the status in which the adolescent seems willing to commit to some relevant roles, values, or gaols for the future. Adolescents in this stage have not experienced an identity crisis. They tend to conform to the expectations of others regarding their future (e. g. allowing a parent to determine a career direction) As such, these individuals have not explored a range of options.
  • Identity Moratorium – the status in which the adolescent is currently in a crisis, exploring various commitments and is ready to make choices, but has not made a commitment to these choices yet.
  • Identity Achievement - the status in which adolescent has gone through a identity crisis and has made a commitment to a sense of identity (i.e. certain role or value) that he or she has chosen

Note that the above status are not stages and should not viewed as a sequential process.

The core idea is that one’s sense of identity is determined largely by the choices and commitments made regarding certain personal and social traits. The work done in this paradigm considers how much one has made certain choices, and how much he or she displays a commitment to those choices. Identity involves the adoption of 1) a sexual orientation, 2) a set of values and ideals and 3) a vocational direction. A well-developed identity gives on a sense of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and individual uniqueness. A person with a less well-developed identity is not able to define his or her personal strengths and weaknesses, and does not have a well articulated sense of self.

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Erikson’s Stages of Development

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Summary: An eight stage theory of identity and psychosocial development

Erik Erikson (1902 -1994), a German-born American psychoanalyst.

Key Terms: Erikson’s stages, psychosocial, development

Erikson’s Stages of Development

Erik Erikson, a German psychoanalyst heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, explored three aspects of identity: the ego identity (self), personal identity (the personal idiosyncrasies that distinguish a person from another, social/cultural identity (the collection of social roles a person might play).

Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development considers the impact of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. According to Erikson’s theory, every person must pass through a series of eight interrelated stages over the entire life cycle.

  1. Infant (Hope) – Basic Trust vs. Mistrust
  2. Toddler (Will) – Autonomy vs. Shame
  3. Preschooler (Purpose) – Initiative vs. Guilt
  4. School-Age Child (Competence) – Industry vs. Inferiority
  5. Adolescent (Fidelity) – Identity vs. Identity Diffusion
  6. Young Adult (Love) – Intimacy vs. Isolation
  7. Middle-aged Adult (Care) – Generativity vs. Self-absorption
  8. Older Adult (Wisdom) – Integrity vs. Despair

These eight stages, spanning from birth to death, are split in general age ranges.

1. Infancy: Birth-18 Months Old

Basic Trust vs. Mistrust – Hope

During the first or second year of life, the major emphasis is on the mother and father’s nurturing ability and care for a child, especially in terms of visual contact and touch.  The child will develop optimism, trust, confidence, and security if properly cared for and handled.  If a child does not experience trust, he or she may develop insecurity, worthlessness, and general mistrust to the world.

2. Toddler / Early Childhood Years: 18 Months to 3 Years

Autonomy vs. Shame – Will

The second stage occurs between 18 months and 3 years.  At this point, the child has an opportunity to build self-esteem and autonomy as he or she learns new skills and right from wrong.  The well-cared for child is sure of himself, carrying himself or herself with pride rather than shame.  During this time of the “terrible twos”,  defiance, temper tantrums, and stubbornness can also appear.  Children tend to be vulnerable during this stage, sometimes feeling shame and and low self-esteem during an inability to learn certain skills.

3. Preschooler: 3 to 5 Years

Initiative vs. Guilt – Purpose

During this period we experience a desire to copy the adults around us and take initiative in creating play situations. We make up stories with Barbie’s and Ken’s, toy phones and miniature cars, playing out roles in a trial universe, experimenting with the blueprint for what we believe it means to be an adult. We also begin to use that wonderful word for exploring the world—”WHY?”

While Erikson was influenced by Freud, he downplays biological sexuality in favor of the psychosocial features of conflict between child and parents. Nevertheless, he said that at this stage we usually become involved in the classic “Oedipal struggle” and resolve this struggle through “social role identification.” If we’re frustrated over natural desires and goals, we may easily experience guilt.

The most significant relationship is with the basic family.

4. School Age Child: 6 to 12 Years

Industry vs. Inferiority – Competence

During this stage, often called the Latency, we are capable of learning, creating and accomplishing numerous new skills and knowledge, thus developing a sense of industry. This is also a very social stage of development and if we experience unresolved feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers, we can have serious problems in terms of competence and self-esteem.

As the world expands a bit, our most significant relationship is with the school and neighborhood. Parents are no longer the complete authorities they once were, although they are still important.

5. Adolescent: 12 to 18 Years

Identity vs. Role Confusion – Fidelity

Up until this fifth stage, development depends on what is done to a person.  At this point, development now depends primarily upon what a person does.  An adolescent must struggle to discover and find his or her own identity, while negotiating and struggling with social interactions and “fitting in”, and developing a sense of morality and right from wrong.

Some attempt to delay entrance to adulthood and withdraw from responsibilities (moratorium).  Those unsuccessful with this stage tend to experience role confusion and upheaval.  Adolescents begin to develop a strong affiliation and devotion to ideals, causes, and friends.

6. Young adult: 18 to 35

Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation – Love

At the young adult stage, people tend to seek companions hip and love.  Some also begin to “settle down” and start families, although seems to have been pushed back farther in recent years.

Young adults seek deep intimacy and satisfying relationships, but if unsuccessful, isolation may occur.   Significant relationships at this stage are with marital partners and friends.

7. Middle-aged Adult: 35 to 55 or 65

Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation – Care

Career and work are the most important things at this stage, along with family.  Middle adulthood is also the time when people can take on greater responsibilities and control.

For this stage, working to establish stability and Erikson’s idea of generativity – attempting to produce something that makes a difference to society.  Inactivity and meaninglessness are common fears during this stage.

Major life shifts can occur during this stage.  For example, children leave the household, careers can change, and so on.  Some may struggle with finding purpose.  Significant relationships are those within the family, workplace, local church and other communities.

8. Late Adult: 55 or 65 to Death

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Distributed Cognition (DCog)

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Summary: Distributed cognition is a branch of cognitive science that proposes cognition and knowledge are not confined to an individual; rather, it is distributed across objects, individuals, artefacts, and tools in the environment.

Originators: Edwin Hutchins in the 1990s.

Key Terms: Cognition in the Wild, mind in the world, artefacts, environment, representational media

Distributed Cognition (DCog)

Edwin Hutchins, a cognitive psychologist and anthropologist, studied how navigation is coordinated on US navy ships around San Diego. From his observations, he posited that the mind is in the world (as opposed to the world being in the mind). That is, the necessary knowledge and cognition to operate a naval vessel do not exist solely within one’s head; knowledge and cognition is distributed across objects, individuals, artefacts, and tools in the environment. The goal of Distributed Cognition is to describe how distributed units are coordinated by analyzing the interactions between individuals, the representational media used, and the environment within which the activity takes place. The unit of analysis can therefore be described as systems that dynamically reconfigure their sub-systems to accomplish functions individuals, artifacts, their relations to each other (e.g. bridge of a ship, airplane cockpit, air traffic control). Distributed Cognition is about defining mechanisms of cognitive processes: e.g. memory in a cockpit encompasses internal processes, physical manipulation of objects, and the creation/exchange of external representations.

Distributed Cognition, which often makes use of ethnographically collected data, is not so much a method; more accurately, it is a useful descriptive framework that describes human work systems in informational and computational terms. It is useful for analyzing situations that involve problem-solving. As it helps provide an understanding of the role and function of representational media, it has implications for the design of technology in the mediation of the activity, because the system designers will have a stronger, clearer model of the work. Thus, it is an important theory for such fields as CSCL, CSCW, HCI, instructional design, and distance learning.

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Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Summary: Actor-Network Theory is a framework and systematic way to consider the infrastructure surrounding technological achievements. Assigns agency to both human and non-human actors (e.g. artifacts)

Originator: Michel Callon (1991) and Bruno Latour (1992); John Law; others.

Key Terms: actor, network, generalized symmetry, equal agency

Actor-Network Theory (ANT)

Originally created by French scholars Latour and Callon as an attempt to understand processes of technological innovation and scientific knowledge-creation, Actor-Network Theory (ANT) can be contrasted with “heroic” accounts of scientific advance. For example, rather than saying Newton “founded” the theory of gravitation seemingly as though he were alone in a vacuum, Actor-Network Theory emphasizes and considers all surrounding factors — no one acts alone. Galileo’s past experiences, his colleagues, his connections with the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, his use of Euclidean geometry, Kepler’s astronomy, Galileo’s mechanics, his tools, the details of his lab, cultural factors and restrictions placed upon him in his environment, and various other technical and non-technical elements would all be described and considered in his actor-network.

Actor-Network Theory does not typically attempt to explain why a network exists; it is more interested in the infrastructure of actor-networks, how they are formed, how they can fall apart, etc.

Actor-Network Theory incorporates what is known as a principle of generalized symmetry; that is, what is human and non-human (e.g. artifacts, organization structures) should be integrated into the same conceptual framework and assigned equal amounts of agency. In this way, one gains a detailed description of the concrete mechanisms at work that hold the network together, while allowing an impartial treatment of the actors.

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Activity Theory

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Summary: Activity Theory is a framework or descriptive tool for a system. People are socio-culturally embedded actors (not processors or system components). There exists a hierarchical analysis of motivated human action (levels of activity analysis).

Originator: Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Luria, and others starting in the 1920s.

Key terms: Activity, action, operation, object-orientedness, internalization/externalization, mediation, development.

Activity Theory

Activity Theory is more of a descriptive meta-theory or framework than a predictive theory. Considers entire work/activity system (including teams, organizations, etc.) beyond just one actor or user. Accounts for environment, history of the person, culture, role of the artifact, motivations, complexity of real life action, etc.

The unit of analysis is motivated activity directed at an object (goal). Includes cultural and technical mediation of human activity, artifacts in use (and not in isolation). Activities consist of goal-directed actions that are conscious. Constituents of activity are not fixed; they can dynamically change.

Activity Theory

Engestrom’s model above is useful for understanding how a wide range factors work together to impact an activity. In order to reach an outcome it is necessary to produce certain objects (e.g. experiences, knowledge, and physical products) Human activity is mediated by artefacts (e.g. tools used, documents, recipes, etc.) Activity is also mediated by an organization or community. Also, the community may impose rules that affect activity. The subject works as part of the community to achieve the object. An activity normally also features a division of labour.

Three levels of activity:

  • Activity towards an objective (goal) carried out by a community. A result of a motive (need) that may not be conscious social and personal meaning of activity (Answers the Why? question)
  • Action towards a specific goal (conscious), carried out by an individual or a group possible goals and subgoals, critical goals (Answers the What? question)
  • Operation structure of activity typically automated and not conscious concrete way of executing an action in according with the specific conditions surrounding the goal (Answers the How? question)


  1. Object-orientedness. (this is not to be confused with object-oriented programming) People live in a reality that is objective in a broad sense: the things that constitute this reality have not only the properties that are considered objective according to natural sciences but socially/culturally defined properties as well.
  2. Internalization/externalization. Distinction between internal and external activities. Internal activities cannot be understood if they are analyzed separately from external activities, because they transform into each other. Internalization is the transformation of external activities into internal ones. Internalization provides a means for people to try potential interactions with reality without performing actual manipulation with real objects (mental simulations, imaginings, considering alternative plans, etc.). Externalization transforms internal activities into external ones. Externalization is often necessary when an internalized action needs to be “repaired,” or scaled. It is also important when a collaboration between several people requires their activities to be performed externally in order to be coordinated.
  3. Mediation. Activity Theory emphasizes that human activity is mediated by tools in a broad sense. Tools are created and transformed during the development of the activity itself and carry with them a particular culture – historical remains from their development. So, the use of tools is an accumulation and transmission of social knowledge. Tool use influences the nature of external behavior and also the mental functioning of individuals.
  4. Development. In Activity Theory development is not only an object of study, it is also a general research methodology. The basic research method in Activity Theory is not traditional laboratory experiments but the formative experiment which combines active participation with monitoring of the developmental changes of the study participants. Ethnographic methods that track the history and development of a practice have also become important in recent work.

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Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Summary: Elaboration theory is an instructional design theory that argues that content to be learned should be organized from simple to complex order, while providing a meaningful context in which subsequent ideas can be integrated. Originators: Charles Reigeluth (Indiana University) and his colleagues in the late 1970s. Key Terms: conceptual elaboration sequence, theoretical elaboration sequence, simplifying conditions sequence .

Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth) The paradigm shift from teacher-centric instruction to learner-centered instruction has caused “new needs for ways to sequence instruction” (Reigeluth, 1999). Charles Reigeluth of Indiana University posited Elaboration Theory, an instructional design model that aims to help select and sequence content in a way that will optimize attainment of learning goals. Proponents feel the use of motivators, analogies, summaries and syntheses leads to effective learning. While the theory does not address primarily affective content, it is intended for medium to complex kinds of cognitive and psychomotor learning. According to Reigeluth (1999), Elaboration Theory has the following values:

  • It values a sequence of instruction that is as holistic as possible, to foster meaning-making and motivation
  • It allows learners to make many scope and sequence decisions on their own during the learning process
  • It is an approach that facilitates rapid protolyping in the instructional development process
  • It integrates viable approaches to scope and sequence into a coherent design theory

There are three major approaches: (1) Conceptual Elaboration Sequence (used when there are many related concepts to be learned), (2) Theoretical Elaboration Sequence (used when there are many related principles to be learned), and (3) Simplifying Conditions Sequence (used when a task of at least moderate complexity is to be learned). The simplest version of the concept, principle or task should be taught first. Teach broader, more inclusive concepts, principles, or tasks before the narrower, more detailed ones that elaborate upon them. One should use either a topical or a spiral approach to this elaboration. Teach “supporting” content such as principles, procedures, information, higher-order thinking skills, or attitudes together with the concepts to which they are most closely related. Group concepts, principles, or steps and their supporting content into “learning episodes” of a useful size (not too small or large). Finally, allow students to choose which concepts, principles, or versions of the task to elaborate upon or learn first (or next).

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ARCS Model of Motivational Design (Keller)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Summary: According to John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design, there are four steps for promoting and sustaining motivation in the learning process: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction (ARCS).

Originator: John Keller

Key terms: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction (ARCS)

ARCS Model of Motivational Design (Keller)

1. Attention

  • Keller attention can be gained in two ways: (1) Perceptual arousal – uses surprise or uncertainly to gain interest. Uses novel, surprising, incongruous, and uncertain events; or (2) Inquiry arousal – stimulates curiosity by posing challenging questions or problems to be solved.
  • Methods for grabbing the learners’ attention include the use of:
    • Active participation -Adopt strategies such as games, roleplay or other hands-on methods to get learners involved with the material or subject matter.
    • Variability – To better reinforce materials and account for individual differences in learning styles, use a variety of methods in presenting material (e.g. use of videos, short lectures, mini-discussion groups).
    • Humor -Maintain interest by use a small amount of humor (but not too much to be distracting)
    • Incongruity and Conflict – A devil’s advocate approach in which statements are posed that go against a learner’s past experiences.
    • Specific examples – Use a visual stimuli, story, or biography.
    • Inquiry – Pose questions or problems for the learners to solve, e.g. brainstorming activities.

2. Relevance

  • Establish relevance in order to increase a learner’s motivation. To do this, use concrete language and examples with which the learners are familiar. Six major strategies described by Keller include:
    • Experience – Tell the learners how the new learning will use their existing skills. We best learn by building upon our preset knowledge or skills.
    • Present Worth – What will the subject matter do for me today?
    • Future Usefulness – What will the subject matter do for me tomorrow?
    • Needs Matching – Take advantage of the dynamics of achievement, risk taking, power, and affiliation.
    • Modeling – First of all, “be what you want them to do!” Other strategies include guest speakers, videos, and having the learners who finish their work first to serve as tutors.
    • Choice – Allow the learners to use different methods to pursue their work or allowing s choice in how they organize it.

3. Confidence

  • Help students understand their likelihood for success. If they feel they cannot meet the objectives or that the cost (time or effort) is too high, their motivation will decrease.
  • Provide objectives and prerequisites – Help students estimate the probability of success by presenting performance requirements and evaluation criteria. Ensure the learners are aware of performance requirements and evaluative criteria.
  • Allow for success that is meaningful.
  • Grow the Learners – Allow for small steps of growth during the learning process.
  • Feedback – Provide feedback and support internal attributions for success.
  • Learner Control – Learners should feel some degree of control over their learning and assessment. They should believe that their success is a direct result of the amount of effort they have put forth.

4. Satisfaction

  • Learning must be rewarding or satisfying in some way, whether it is from a sense of achievement, praise from a higher-up, or mere entertainment.
  • Make the learner feel as though the skill is useful or beneficial by providing opportunities to use newly acquired knowledge in a real setting.
  • Provide feedback and reinforcement. When learners appreciate the results, they will be motivated to learn. Satisfaction is based upon motivation, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic.
  • Do not patronize the learner by over-rewarding easy tasks.

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